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HAM: A Musical Memoir

by Rob Lester
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Oct 9, 2019
'HAM: A Musical Memoir'
'HAM: A Musical Memoir'  

Singer Sam Harris, throughout "Ham: A Musical Memoir", works hard - strutting his stuff, sharing his pain, reliving highs and lows in show biz and growing up. Are you in?

On-camera audience members in this filmed concert appear to be satisfied customers. Dedicated fans of the veteran pop/musical comedy performer? Ultra-curious? Awestruck voyeurs? His warts-and-all, somewhat self-congratulatory recollections go on (and on and on - more talk than singing). Within the narrated memory lane trip, Harris takes on roles of family, teacher, career-guiders, etc., and, eventually, his young son.

Self-proclaimed "ham," Sam freely admits being all about being in the spotlight since he was knee-high to grown-ups in local theatre. In what nowadays causes controversy, not mentioned by him here, for childhood roles he donned makeup to play kids of different races. When Dad encouraged baseball, young Sam sang show tunes waaaaaay out in the outfield (he thought of it as being "upstage left") and then was offered demotion to water boy. Attending a friend's church, he was spellbound by gospel music, impacting how he'd want to sing. Teen-aged Sam soon was sweating bullets trying to be in denial about attraction to other boys, a major No-No in Bible Belt Oklahoma. (Actually, he distractingly sweats bullets throughout the performance, towel at the ready to mop his face and hair.)

He lingers in the early years until past the midpoint of this 113-minute concert-with-catharsis. He's aided and enabled by polished pianist/derby-wearer/gamely attentive reactor Todd Schroeder, who joins in some singing and showmanship. Both men, dressed in all black, contributed their songwriting efforts to provide tailor-made attitude expressions, including a title tune and an anthem of resilience.

Going with determination and frenzy from small time to big break, Broadway, and sometimes anti-climactic aftermath brings more songs and confessions. Strain to maintain. Touring is a treadmill. Bits of powerhouse songs as TV's "Star Search" champion, the game-changer, is, naturally, a major setpiece. His over-the-top "Over the Rainbow" is over too soon but is reprised and recycled as a lullaby for his child in the most touching moment. (Alas, there isn't much concern shown for others or the world outside show biz earlier, with the notable exception of a family scene, and he mentions his husband only briefly.)

Is or isn't it an all-too-pat pat on his own back, T.M.I., or revealing and instructive? Your mileage may vary.

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.

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